It’s been several decades since I’ve been involved in a farm production operation, but that type of lifestyle never really leaves you unless you let it.
For me, I’ve also been a few years removed from being around agriculture through changes in my career paths so last weekend was an excellent chance to dive back into something that I loved being a part of.
What I’m speaking of is the province-wide event called Open Farm Days – a day where farms and food production operations throughout Alberta welcome members of the public to participate in the agricultural sector showcasing just what they do, how they do and why this business is so important to people’s lives and livelihoods.
Now, having grown up on a cattle and mixed grain operation while also having spent nearly 15 years covering all aspects of agricultural production – in a province whose football team isn’t very good right now – my knowledge base concerning certain things is considerably better than most people.
However, there is always more that can be learned and I certainly did just that during visits to a pair of operations on the weekend.
My first stop was all about milk and cheese, something that isn’t great for me as I have a dairy allergy. Although, as it turns out, the thing getting my goat about digesting milk products could simply be the big baaaaaad fats in cows.
You locals will likely already know where I was – the Bos family’s Rocky Ridge Dairy not that far from Ponoka. For those that don’t know, it’s a farm that sees around 700 goats milked twice per day to produce whole and natural milk as well as cheese and feta.
Even as a reporter – and specifically covering agriculture for quite some time – it isn’t often you get the opportunity to see inside an operation let alone the up-close and personal look I got, along with a big amount of the public, the Bos’ provided.
It was extremely interesting to see how the operation has grown and evolved as the market for their products grew and how production changed when their options became limited. I also learned that sometimes the price you pay for alternatives, or to buy local for that matter, can be well worth the investment – whether it’s for health reasons, sustainability or simply because the product is something you love.
One more thing – despite farming practices having changed dramatically due to technology, family farming operations still remain a labour of love and not a money making business with extremely long hours – upwards of 20-plus hour days for the Bos’ – and vacations being non-existent. Patrick Bos half-heartedly joked the last time they were away from the farm for any extended period was when they took their six-week honeymoon back in the 1990s.
What a garden
I also visited a market garden to the east of Ponoka as part of my tour, which really intrigued me as I had no idea of the varied fruit that can grow in this climate.
Sure, I knew about the many different berries that are native to the province, but there are other kinds – like the Tay berry and various apple and pear varieties – that can also be grown quite successfully.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be had in the fruit department – a wet, stormy and windy season left most of the crop in ruins with what was left already taken off. However, I did manage to come away with more knowledge of what can be grown locally as well as a few jars of some jams and jellies to enjoy soon.
For my family and I, if we could make it affordable for us to purchase the goat milk and cheese products, beef and bison produced in the area as well as the locally grown fruit and vegetables (or grown our own vegetables) that would be how I’d do it.
We do what we can, but I’d certainly encourage anyone that has that ability to ensure you support a local producer because once they are gone, it’s usually gone forever.
But that is…just an observation.